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Breast cancer genetic code mapped

Breast cancer care wristbands.

The genetic code of the most common type of hereditary breast cancer has been mapped for the first time, raising many hopes for better diagnosis and treatment. Researchers, from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at the Institute of Cancer Research, say that they have “fully sequenced” the DNA of two breast cancers caused by a faulty BRCA1 gene, which is responsible for aggressive and highly drug-resistant tumours. The team say that they hope that their work will lead to more tailored treatment for patients.

Dr Rachel Natrajan, one of the scientists involved, said: “It is exciting to find new genes which could be involved in causing breast cancer. Now these have been identified we have to do more work to find out the role that they play. This knowledge could help us to develop new treatments that target the specific defects of each patient’s disease.”

The scientists say that cases caused by the BRCA1 gene are “usually aggressive” and “do not benefit” from targeted drugs, such as tamoxifen and Herceptin.  The researchers found that, despite both tumours being caused by the same source, they mutated in different ways.

Professor Jorge Reis-Filho, co-author of the study, said: “Our work shows that each tumour can look very different genetically. Now we understand this, we can start to identify the best treatment strategies to save more lives.”

Genetically passed-down breast cancers account for up to 10% of all cases, affecting about 4,500 people in Britain every year.

The research was published in The Journal of Pathology.

Written exclusively for The Life Dept | Live Longer | 24 February 2012

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